Friday, August 31, 2007

Brutus Stabs Himself After Killing Ceasar

I have heard of method actors before, but this is going a little far!!!

Becaue the injury is obviously not life threatening, this story is just too funny. Apparently a Colorado actor donig a scene from Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar cut himself with his knife.
After the fateful scene, actor and director Kent Hudson Reed accidently cut himself: He tried to carry on, "but my boot was filling up with blood and I was flubbing my lines, wondering if I was going to pass out, wondering if the audience could see the blood."

Portia (Susan Mauntel) took Brutus to a hospital for stitches and play narrator Tyson Young announced the performance was canceled.

"That's what you get for trying to kill Caesar," he said.

Reed said actors normally don't use real knives, but the scene was set up so none of the performers were close enough to hurt each other.

"But I hadn't thought an actor might stab himself," he said.
Even though the scene was set up to avoid actual contact with knives, would it have been a stretch to use a play knife?

Affirmative Action, Law Schools and the Mismatch of Minority Students

Earlier this week, I posted on an article in the Wall Street Journal by Gail Heriot discussing a study by UCLA professor Richard Sander that argued that many law schools, particularly the highest tier schools, actually do a disservice to minority students by accepting academically less qualified students under "affirmative action" programs. I wrote on Tuesday:
Far too many people, including it should be noted, the Supreme Court of the United States, has a stake in the practice of affirmative action admissions. The argument, frequently made, is that a "critical mass" of minority students adds to the education of the entire class. A better argument to make is that a critical mass of minority lawyers adds to the reputation and honor of the profession and current admission practices appear to make it hard to add to that critical mass of attorneys.
The inestimable Michael Barone also wrote about the issue, noting
Law school administrators, like university administrators generally, nonetheless cling desperately to racial preferences. So does the American Bar Association, which is trying to impose "affirmative action" policies on law schools as a condition of accreditation, a move that seems to have prompted the Civil Rights Commission report. The report gives ammunition to those of us who have criticized these administrators for preening self-righteousness. They want to pat themselves on the back for admitting large percentages of blacks but at the same time seem to have no interest at all in the percentage who actually graduate or pass the bar exam. They can't bear the thought that their institutions will have a lower percentage of blacks than some other institutions they regard as morally inferior (e.g., the United States military and big-city police forces).
Barone may have said "seem to have no interest at all" in the post admission success of minority students, a sentence that Ann Althouse took exception to:
He must know the law schools care deeply about the success of our graduates. But I understand his point. It's that if we really wanted the ends we care about, we ought to abandon the approach to admissions that the commission criticized.

But there is no "we" here. As Barone notes, the highest ranked law schools absorb much of the limited pool of minority applicants, and this affects the other law schools, which also want to admit minority students. The law schools are not all going to change at the same time, and we are are in competition with each other. If any school changes, others will look for ways to take advantage.
Which brings us to another important point, Sander's work has been criticized by many, but so far his data regarding law school performance has held up to scrutiny, but there has been little cooperation from the state bar associations to provide data on the admission of minority attorneys to the bar and the results of bar exams. As Heriot noted in her article:
Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Mr. Sander's data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, they apparently don't want you--or anyone else--to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff advisor and co-author of a frequently cited attack of Sander's study. When Mr. Sander and his co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California that would allow analysis by race, Mr. Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure "risks stigmatizing African American attorneys." At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, gleefully warned that the state bar would be sued if it cooperated with Mr. Sander.

Sadly, the State Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn't formally explain their decision to deny Mr. Sander's request for these data (in which no names would be disclosed), but the root cause is clear: Over the last 40 years, many distinguished citizens--university presidents, judges, philanthropists and other leaders--have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy.
The problem of course is that it is easy to pick apart Sander's research and I think even Sander would appreciate a critical dialogue, but beyond the numbers provided by law schools, the story is incomplete and the affirmative action interests are so great that it will take some of Sander's critics to actually break the state bars' reluctance to provide the necessary data. Vikrram David Amar, writing at, is no fan of Sander's work, having penned a series of columns commenting on Sander's methods, policy implications and even results. But despite Amar's doubts, he is joining in a chorus of law professors and thinkers in calling on state bar associations to allow access to critical data.
Over the past year or so, Professor Sander and some other scholars - whose views on race-based affirmative action are quite varied - have starting seeking more thorough and more recent data from various state bars, especially California's, on this issue. If procured, such data may well go a fair way towards either debunking or confirming Professor Sander's hypotheses about so-called "mismatch effects."

Although I don't necessarily share Professor Sander's intuitions about precisely what the information will show, and indeed I may end up interpreting the data differently than he does, I joined the research group's request to have the data analyzed because I think questions like these should be tested against available real-world information.

However, many state bar officials seem reluctant to facilitate the inquiry. California, for example, has, at least for the moment, turned down the request before it, although the reasons it asserts - protection of individual privacy and internal bar precedent - don't hold up very well, given the specifics of how the project is designed and the fact that the bar has provided similar information to other research efforts in the recent past.

I believe that this project, and the larger issue of which it is a part, are quite important. Moreover, neither is going away anytime soon; one of the Commissioners of the US Civil Rights Commission wrote an Op Ed in last week's Wall Street Journal discussing the topic and highlighting its centrality...

I myself don't know how much of a mismatch effect our analysis will find. I would be quite pleased personally if regressions and other analyses debunk or tend to cut against the mismatch hypothesis advanced in Dr. Sander's Stanford Law Review piece. And I want very much the research group to run as many different kinds of tests and analyses as we can think of - using a variety of alternative assumptions about the way schools pick students, and the way students go about the task of learning the law - to make sure the research can be used by scholars across the ideological spectrum to make their best arguments.

But more than anything else, I want to move the debate forward and encourage - perhaps even force - people to confront whatever reality seems most likely to exist, even if our sense of that reality is not free from uncertainty, so that we can adapt policy (or perhaps just leave it alone) in a way that is most likely to accomplish our shared objectives of diversity and fairness.
Like it or not, law schools provide an unavoidable entry into the legal profession since most states no longer allow a person to read for the bar (that is take the bar exam after apprenticing with a practicing lawyer--a long tradition in American legal history). Thus, with the entry barrier in place, the legal community has a huge stake in making sure the entry barriers are fair to everyone and permit all students the same chance of passing the bar. Students who are mismatched with their school, that is admitted under circumstances more likely to lead to poor grades and possible bar exam failure due to lack of adequate preparation, are not being afforded the opportunity to best prepare for the bar exam and membership in the legal profession.

As I stated before, a critical mass of minority law students at a given law school is not nearly as important as a critical mass of minoirty lawyers practicing their profession. If law school admission policies are distorting the ability of minority students to enter the legal profession, and the bar associations have data that could either support or debunk Sander's thesis, then the data should be released and tested nine ways to Sunday by as many scholars with an interest. This is an important, if not the most important, debate in the legal education arena and I for one would love to see Sander's research and Amar's research side by side because then we can see, not only which view is correct, but also find ways to correct any problems that may be found.

Gay Marriage Ruling--OK

In Iowa? That would not have been my first guess for a favorable ruling venue.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Priest To give Eco-Confessions


About Damn Time

I must say that I am sick of the "testing the waters" campaign of Fred Thompson. RedState is reporting that Thompson will announce he is running in about 25 mintues, with this caveat:
Do not expect an official "announcement" today for the public. But, today Fred is confirming that he is running for the White House. He's been making calls today and there will be a call starting any minute for close supporters. There will be a formal big shindig later.
Still, finally!!

Amazing Chris Klein Bicycle Kick Goal

Check it out here.

McBride To Return to Fulham Around Christmas

Fulham FC Captain and striker Brian McBride has returned to England after surgery in the United States and team doctors believe a Christas return is the target right now. Fulham's physiotherapist Jason Palmer reported:
Investigations confirmed he suffered a complete rupture of his quadricep muscle in the areas where the quadricep inserts into the patella (kneecap bone). Consequently he underwent a surgical procedure to repair and reattach the muscle. The surgery went very well and he has returned to complete his rehab with the medical staff here at Fulham.
Here's to returning in fine form Brian.

Colorado School Bans Tag

With the U.S. Open Tennis tournament taking place, a quick homage to John McEnroeYou cannot be serious!!

Marine Might Sue Murtha

Bryan Preston at Hot Air has the story of one Marine accused by Murtha of atrocities at Haditha who plays to sue Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) over comments accusing Marines of committing war crimes and various after the fact crimes. Now that the supposed killers have been exonerated, some a considering a libel suit against the Pennsylvania lawmaker.

Here is one problem though, Murtha will likely claim an immunity from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause. In order for the suit to go foward, the Marines and their lawyers will have to get television news appearances considered outside of official duties of lawmakers, thus rendering Murtha's statements as outside of speech and debate.

That is a very high hurdle to cross, but good luck. It would be good to start holding irresponsible lawmakers liable for shooting their mouth off without substantiation or facts.

Florida's Meek Earmarks

Um, yeah right:
[Rep.] Kendrick Meek [D, Fla.] says his enthusiasm for the biotech project had nothing do with the fact that his mother [former Rep. Carrie Meek] was a paid consultant for the developer, or that she was was receiving free rent and the use of a luxury SUV.

He says his mom never asked him to propose the $4 million appropriation.

So it's just another weird Miami coincidence — mother and son independently embracing a fast-talking Boston developer with ambitious plans and a thirst for public financing.
Draw your own conclusions.

The Higher Education Lobby

Ben Adler, writing in the Washington Monthly lets readers in on the supposed "bad practices" of the higher education lobby. Ensconsed in a vey nice builiding in One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, most of the prominent higher education associations benefit from the close quarters to become a large voice in the political process.

Adler describes this as if it were a bad thing for students and their parents.
That’s not to say that higher ed doesn’t champion righteous causes. In the 1990s, they stood up to attempts by the Republican Congress to cut student aid, and went on to team with the Clinton administration to expand the Pell Grant program. And when, after 9/11, the Bush administration, in its zeal to keep out terrorists, imposed overly harsh visa requirements that ended up keeping out large numbers of foreign professors and grad students—exactly the kind of people who keep our universities humming with fresh ideas—higher ed led the successful effort to pressure the government to adopt a more sensible policy.

But the same lobbying muscle they’ve often put in the service of worthy causes they’ve also used to thwart promising reforms. On a range of issues, higher ed has stood up for its own narrow strategic or pecuniary concerns, rather than the broader interests of students or the country at large. In short, though it represents institutions that loudly proclaim a mission of public service, the higher education lobby more often acts like any other Washington trade group. Today, one of the most significant roadblocks to fixing many of the pressing problems of our troubled system of higher education is the higher education lobby itself.
To a certain extent, it is a bad thing. But here is something to remember, the higher education lobby groups do not represent students, they represent colleges and universities and the various official groups like University Attorneys or University Presidents. These groups have members and interests that sometimes coincides with student intersts and sometimes don't.

In the modern age of lobbying coaltions are the norm if a groups wants to get anything done. Even mega groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce routine partner with smaller, even largely unknown, lobbying groups. Often, these large and small lobbying groups will be part of dozens of coalitions on a variety of issues. Given that higher education groups would often align on a whole series of issues, the close working relationship no doubt leads to a monolithic appearance--when they are on the opposite side of the table.

That these groups look out for the parochial interests of colleges and universities is not only to be expected--it is their entire reason for existence. But higher ed lobbies are a bit different that big coprorate trade associations and labor unions--they can't spend the money those groups can because of their legal status (one of the most important protections for colleges and universities is the 501(c)(3) status allowing for tax deductible contributions).
The higher ed lobby is plenty aggressive, but in an understated way—money is not its main lever of power. In 2005, the last years for which figures are available, higher education associations officially spent just $6.2 million on lobbying, according to figures from Inside Higher Ed. (By contrast, General Electric alone spent $24.2 million, much of which went to the kind of high-priced outside law and PR firms that higher ed almost never employs.) Nor does it rely on mass grassroots campaigns to make its voice heard. Since most of the associations are organized under the tax code as 501(c)(3) organizations, they’re legally allowed to spend only a limited amount of money on the kind of conventional mass political tactics—holding rallies and organizing letter- and e-mail-writing campaigns in order to affect legislation—that the teachers unions or environmental groups routinely use.

Instead, higher ed wields power in two effective if subtle ways. First, it plays an inside game, conducting quiet, sit-down meetings with policy makers in which it trades on its expertise on the often technical questions of education policy. Hill staffers looking to make sense of complicated legislative proposals, and to understand the impact on those most directly affected, have little alternative but to turn to higher ed lobbyists.

Second, higher ed makes skillful use of its hometown ties. Colleges typically occupy prominent positions in the economic, cultural, and civic life of their communities, and they’re adept at using those positions to win influence. They can curry favor with legislators by conferring honorary degrees or inviting them to give commencement addresses, usually generating a round of positive PR back home. In some communities, college presidents are high-profile public figures, with ready access to the media and the power to help shape local opinion. Like large corporations, universities are often major employers in their districts, and their financial fortunes have a spillover effect on the local economy. More personal ties can also weigh heavily: according to some Hill staffers, legislators often have a soft spot for their alma mater, or for the state university whose football team they grew up rooting for.
This is smart politics and very effective. But really, no different than any other group that seeks to influence policy.

The fact of the matter is, that in the world of interest group politics, most people don't care about these issues. Adler speaks of legacy enrollment and early admission processes. For most Americans, this does not affect their lives directly and thus they don't care. When only one side has the microphone because the other side doesn't exist or show up, only one side gets heard.

Adler's article, while containing some interesting back room politicking a given issues, shows us nothing new or unexpected in the world of lobbying.

Bill Richardson on the Rise

I have always thought that once Democratic voters got to know Bill Richardson, they would probably like what they see. Now it appears as though at least Iowa Democrats are liking what they see:
In Iowa, Richardson has moved from 1 percent support in the state to a middle tier all his own. That's more movement than any other Democratic candidate has seen this year.

According to data maintained by the Web site, the average of all recent polls of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers has Hillary Clinton at 25.4 percent; John Edwards at 24.6 percent, Barack Obama at 19.9 percent and Richardson at 11.6 percent. The single most recent survey pegged Richardson at 14 percent in the state, just 8 points behind Obama.

Richardson's rise in the state raises two questions: Why did it happen? And can he sustain it as other single-digit candidates such as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd start moving?

Richardson has set the ambitious goal of finishing in the top three contenders in Iowa, which means he has to beat Clinton, Edwards or Obama, a feat that would deal an almost mortal blow to one of them and slingshot him into serious contention.
Sure, Richardson has made a few gaffs this political season, but who hasn't.

Richardson has something none of the top three Democratic contenders have: real executive experience. Unlike Hillary Clinton's "executive" experience as First Lady, Richardson has spent time in the Cabinet (as Energy Secretary) and is the governor of New Mexico. Richardson has real foreign policy experience-in that hellhole on the East River called the United Nations, in addition to being a Congressman from New Mexico. In short, Richardson may be the most qualified candidate seeking the Democratic nod.

The problem of course is that he is running in fourth among the Democratic contenders. But to be fair to Richardson, probably the only reason why John Edwards is polling better is that Edwards has practically made Iowa his second home for much of the past year, arguably Edwards could claim residency there.

Can Richardson, a Hispanic, crack the top three? I think so and I think that Edwards and/or Obama are the most likely victims. Can Richardson knock off Hillary Clinton? I would hope not because then the Democrats would have a more electable candidate, but for the past several presidential campaigns, Democrats have not demonstrated a proclivity for choosing the most electable person.

While I am not likely to vote Democratic anytime soon, Richardson is one candidate I could vote for without a gun being put to my head.

Rick Hasen on the Ragged System of Choosing a President

While I tend to disagree with Prof. Hasen on a number of matters involving election law, his latest column at Findlaw is a pretty good summary of the mess that has been made of our electoral system for choosing a president. Some of the problems simple facts that the law has not kept up with reality (see the Matching Fund program) or the "race to be relevant" in choosing nominees that is skewing the primiary system so bad as to be laughable, or simply blatant politics.

Hasen concludes:
We shouldn't be surprised, in the post-Bush v. Gore environment, that political actors will take every legal step to gain political advantage. The trick is finding the will to impose law and order so that individually-rational decisions by these political actors don't lead to irrational results for the country as a whole.
Our presidential election system is no longer rational to anyone, except maybe a crazy person.

My solutions:

1. Abolish the current matching system all together (preferred) or at teh every least set up the law for a regular review of real world costs of campaigning if limits are to be set.

2. Five regional primaries centered around the five biggest states and rotating through each cycle so no one region becomes dominate (or better yet) a lottery six months before the first primary, so no candidate can anticiapte where the primaries will start.

3. Either abolish the Electoral college by amendment (not likely to happen) or couple together redistricting reform and electoral college reform so that both are competitive.

A Comment on Health Care Pyaments and the Disincentives Currently in Place

I though this comment just about sums up all that is wrong with current health insurance models:
Right now, a lot of hospitals and physician groups are lobbying for expanding insurance. The problem is, health care financing is now largely driven by the reimbursement doctors, hospitals, and other providers look for the procedures that pay the most. Whole industries have developed to maximize charges...I call it "code farming," sort of like farm subsidies.
In a normal marketplace, a competitor would enhance productivity, reduce costs, and pass that savings on to a customer. If you sold one widget for 100 dollars, your production cost might be 75 dollars, but after you sold 100, your production cost might drop to 50$, a savings which would be passed on to garner more business yet still make a profit. In health care, whether you do one procedure or 100, the reimbursement is fixed. There is no real reward/incentive for a provider to cut their prices...except in those areas of medicine where people pay out of pocket...check out cosmetic surgery and lasik.
If you add in the factor that most people don't know how much care really costs (as opposed to what they pay out of pocket or notified by insurance what was paid), you can get a good idea why providers what expanded insurance--they benefit from it without having to really respond to market forces.

The 2008 Swing Voters

Ramesh Ponnuru has quoted Hank Scheinkopf, who is pretty accurate.

Education Schools Jargon

What??? Can someone translate this into English for me:
This article argues for a decolonizing multicultural education pedagogy, which engages the interstices — in-between hybrid spaces — that emerge at the intersections of different cultures, histories, and locations. It also examines how those who work for social transformation are implicated in the very systems and structures they are attempting to deconstruct.

Michelle Rhee's Potential "TNT" Issue

Several years ago, I came to the belief that teachers' unions were teh biggest criminal in the public education arean. I was wrong--it is central bureaucracies--often union employees themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I still think that teachers' unions are still a major obstacle to making our schools better, but the biggest problem is incompetence protected by civil service rules and union contracts for government workers that creates the largest problem. Now, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is gearing up for the biggest fight of her short tenure--reforming and restructuring the DC schools central office. Rhee is seeking authority, either on her own or through legislative permission to begin firing central office employees.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is preparing plans to fire up to several hundred employees over the coming year, part of a major restructuring of the school system's central office aimed at streamlining operations, District government sources said.

As the initial piece of her strategy, Rhee has begun drafting legislation that would ask the D.C. Council to suspend personnel laws so that the chancellor would have the authority to terminate employees without having to reassign them to other jobs. Rhee also has been meeting with council members to lay the groundwork for their political support, members said.

The chancellor's actions are aimed at taking on the intractable central bureaucracy of the 50,000-student system, blamed for scuttling generations of reforms, said council members who have met with Rhee. During her informal chats with parents, community meetings and a two-day teacher training event last week, Rhee has vowed to create a central administration that is more receptive and responsive when dealing with parents, teachers and principals.

In past years, for example, the central office has allowed thousands of school facility work orders to languish, failed to deliver paychecks to teachers on time and had trouble supplying principals with supplies and equipment.

Rhee is exploring whether she has the legal authority to fire employees without council action. But she is aiming, if necessary, to present a formal legislative proposal to the council by the time members return from summer recess Sept. 15, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are being formulated. Rhee is said to have the full backing of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who fired Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and replaced him with Rhee in June.

Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said Rhee explained during a recent meeting with him that she wants to bring in new upper-level managers and downsize the central administration by as much as 30 to 40 percent.

The central office, as defined by Rhee and her deputies, has 700 to 900 employees, although the exact number has been difficult for the chancellor to pin down, the government sources said.

"It's not rocket science to know the central office is disorganized. Everyone knows that," Brown said. "The question is, to what extent is it disorganized, and what is the solution? Clearly, I need to see more specifics."

Another council member who has met with Rhee declined to speak for attribution because the conversation was private. But this person called the potential firings a "TNT issue" that could be met with skepticism by members whose constituents would stand to lose their jobs.
Central office workers outlast almost everyone involved in education, from elected officials and appointed superintendents to most teachers and principals, a central office bureaucrat is like the petrified forest, resist to all forms of change and so calcified as to be monolithic. But if Rhee wants to shake up the business operations side of the DC schools, by far the most inept in the Capitol area, she will need to begin swinging a mighty axe. I have suggested a 50 percent reduction in the work force before, but even a 30 percent cut in staff will go a long way to making sure people get the message.

But the end of the excerpt above illustrates the problem in DC. The central bureaucracy is practically a protected feifdom, with political patronage at stake, the DC Council will reluctant to pass the legislation Rhee is authoring. But here Rhee and her own patron, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) have a significant political edge. There are three possible scenarios, two of which are wins for Fenty and Rhee and losses for the Council. If the DC Council thwarts Rhee's their ability to make the necessary changes, Fenty and Rhee can point straight to the Council as the obstacle to school reform--a perfect out for the mayor on an issue high on DC residents' list of concerns. But if the Council approves the legislation and Rhee and Fenty succeed, the power of the Council in education matters is likewise diminished. Neither scenario is good for the Council. The only way the Council can win is to grant Rhee the authority she seeks and hope she fails.

No matter what, the Council almost certainly has to pass the legislation, even over the objection of the union representing the central office employees.

Rhee's mission to reform the manner in which the DC schools conduct their business operations, that is facility maintenance, purchasing, HR and payroll operations, logistics and transportation, translates directly to dollars for teh system, dollars that can be save or reallocated into the classroom. Either way though, Rhee is looking at tackling a major problem and it will be no small battle. If she wins though, DC kids will ultimately win.

Maybe If Math Class Used This Example, there Would Be More Interest in Ratios!!

Jessica Alba's waist to hips ratio gives her the ulitmate sexy strut.

FEC Slaps $775,000 Fine to Soros Backed America Coming Together

American Coming Together fell apart last year, but the reverberations of their activity continue:
The Federal Election Commission has fined one of the last cycle’s biggest liberal political action committees $775,000 for using unregulated soft money to boost John Kerry and other Democratic candidates during the 2004 elections.

America Coming Together (ACT) raised $137 million for its get-out-the-vote effort in 2004, but the FEC found most of that cash came through contributions that violated federal limits.

The group’s big donors included George Soros, Progressive Corp. chairman Peter Lewis and the Service Employees International Union.

The settlement, which the FEC approved unanimously, is the third largest enforcement penalty in the commission’s 33-year history.

ACT, which ceased operations in 2005, was formed in late 2003 and rapidly deployed an enormous organization to do the retail-level grunt work of politics.
This particular case illustrates one of the great problems with campaign finance enforcement. The complexity of the rules, makes investigation and enforcement a lengthy, costly, and ultimately moot issue. By the time violators are punished, it is often 2, 3 or even more years after the infringing activity. If a group is willing to risk the fine several years down the road, they can engage in some shady behavior, make their mark on the election, then fade from the limelight and later pay their fine to the FEC in a settlement. Just like this case.

Is Sci-Fi Dead?

I certainly hope not, but Sir Ridley Scott seems to think so. On the occaision of teh 25th Anniversary release of Scott's classic Blade Runner, he opined:
At the Venice Film Festival for a special screening of his seminal noir thriller Blade Runner, Sir Ridley said that science fiction films were going the way the Western once had. “There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it,” he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: “All of them. Yes, all of them.”

The flashy effects of recent block-busters, such as The Matrix, Independence Day and The War of the Worlds, may sell tickets, but Sir Ridley believes that none can beat Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Made at the height of the “space race” between the United States and the USSR, 2001 predicted a world of malevolent computers, routine space travel and extraterrestrial life. Kubrick had such a fastidious eye for detail, he employed Nasa experts in designing the spacecraft.

Sir Ridley said that 2001 was “the best of the best”, in use of lighting, special effects and atmosphere, adding that every sci-fi film since had imitated or referred to it. “There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines,” he said of modern sci-fi films.
I will certainly agree with Scott on the latter comment, there is too much effects and not much story in a lot of "sci-fi" films. The thing that is interesting is that there is a lot of really good sci-fi in the written format and on TV--see for example Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi channel or the first and most recent seasons Lost or Heroes.

But sci-fi television has to manage matters related to budget specifically and the limitations of the television format. As for books, there are no real limits, other than some sort of reasonable page limit--a 2000 page book is hard to read. But many of the great sci-fi books would be hard to translate to the screen since the involve complex plot lines, long lists of characters, etc. These traits simply don't make it to the screen. For example, although Dune was made into a movie and a Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, neither was particularly great because of short-cuts that need to be made in making a movie.

One of the cornerstones of sci-fi has been characters and their development. Sci-fi allowed us to examine the human condition in ways that would be almost dull were it not for the setting or in ways that stretch our imagination--think of Ellie (Jodie Foster) meeting an alien in the guise of her father in Contact--the opportunity for emotion and wonder are fantastic. But the problem is that when people think of sci-fi, they think space opera, like Star Wars and not so much about Blade Runner or 2001.

Hat Tip: Betsy's Page

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

134th Carnival of Education

Matthew Tabor hosts the carnival this week. Lots of good stuff.

FEC Rules McCain Eligible for Matching Funds

In the wake of two dismal fundraising quarters, speculation in July was that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would seek public matching funds in order to keep his campaign running. Well, it appears that McCain has asked the FEC about his eligibility and the Commission has ruled that he is eligible.
Republican John McCain, his presidential campaign trying to climb out of dire financial straits, is eligible to receive public financing for his struggling bid, the Federal Election Commission said Tuesday.
The Arizona senator quietly requested authority to receive matching funds on Aug. 10, but his campaign said he has not decided whether he would ultimately accept the money. Doing so would put him at a major disadvantage against well-funded rivals Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, who are likely to forego public financing and, thus, free themselves from spending limits.
"We have not made a final decision, but we are doing what's necessary should we decide to opt into the matching fund system," McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said.
If McCain takes the funds, he must hitch his wagon to wins in Iowa and New Hampshire based on good, old fashioned retail politics because he certainly will not beat Romney and Giuliani on money.

If he takes the public funds, it will be a signal that he is no longer a top tier candidate in terms of operation.

Electoral Politics & the New York Times on National Review Online

Matthew J. Franck takes on the New York Times and the issue of the California electoral vote allocation.
The district-tally system proposed in California is also hard to assess for its impact on the two-party system. To have much of an impact, a minor-party candidate would have to roll up some House districts, and that won’t soon happen. But eventually the decay of the two-party system might set in, and for some people, myself included, that’s reason enough to oppose the California initiative.

But this argument requires some thought, not just a knee-jerk fear that one’s favored party will be disadvantaged in the near term. And that’s all the Times had to offer.

Troubles for Hillary Clinton

Although unlikely to derail the Hillary Express to the Democratic nod, the troubles of top Clinton fundraiser Norman Hsu don't appear to end with the troubling coincidences between Hsu's fundraising efforts and the contributions of a decidedly middle class family from San Francisco. As Los Angeles Times is reporting, Norman Hsu is being sought by authorities for failing to appear to serve a three year sentence for grand theft swindling.
In just the last 36 months Hsu has been involved in raising more than $1 million for Clinton and other Democrats. Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, confirmed today that Hsu had been a "longtime and generous supporter" of the party including Clinton. "We have no reason to call his contributions into question or to return them," Wolfson added.

Hsu has developed a specialty of bundling hefty campaign contributions from obscure citizens who live modest lives and have never before given money to campaigns. Many are not even registered to vote.

Over the years other recipients of Hsu donations have included Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Edward Kennedy.

Hsu's lawyer confirmed today that his client was the one involved in the California case but said he did not remember pleading to a criminal case nor facing jail time.

"He is a fugitive," said Ronald Smetana of the California attorney general's office. "Do you know where he is?"
I could give the benefit of the doubt to the Clinton camp for the Paw family contributions, but I can't really give them the benefit of the doubt on this issue. Hsu is known to the campaign and they should take care to make sure their fundraisers are not fugitives.

Another Bad Idea from John Edwards

"Brownie's Law" would be a requirement that any political appointee made by the president have demonstrable qualifications for the office. Jim Geraghty notes
I come to bury Brownie, not to praise him. But the right solution isn't some law trying to mandate the resume requirements of appointed officials. It's the job of the legislative branch - and the press - to scrutinize appointees. Edwards' solution would be to take a sledgehammer to a fly. For starters, what is "demonstrated qualifications in the field"? Who would decide what experience counts and what doesn't?

I would ask Edwards supporters, would you say that a man whose primary experience is in running a political party's national committee and running a political convention is qualified to, say, run the Department of Commerce? If no, congratulations, you just disqualified Clinton's Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

Do you think a Miami prosecutor is sufficiently qualified to step into the top spot at the Department of Justice? If not, you've just eliminated Janet Reno. How about a longtime presidential friend, a magazine editor, and a Harvard professor - think this person, with little administrative experience, is qualified to serve as Secretary of Labor? Sorry, Robert Reich, the Edwards supporters have given you the thumbs-down.
A lot of political appointees lack experience for Cabinet positions, after all how many people have a lot of experience running large administrative agencies? The president is entitled to appoint whom he chooses and barring a criminal past or some other sort of obvious disqualification, Congress should confirm the appointee.

Should the appointee drop the ball, like Michale Brown, then it is the president who takes teh blame--and rightfully so.

Zat Knight Leaves Fulham for Aston Villa

Fulham central defender Zat Knight has been transferred to Aston Villa in a deal that will give Fulham at 3.5 to 4 million pound transfer fee.

The pairing of Zat Knight and American Carlos Bocanegra in the central defense has been a good team and certainly Knight's strength and skill in teh air will be missed. Knight has been with Fulham for nearly 8 years and 150 matches for the Whites, so his departure will be felt.

The EPL transfer window closes on Friday and it may be possible for Fulham to pick up a replacement.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bush Administration Poverty Levels Vs. Clinton Administration

Gateway Pundit makes a valuable comparison between poverty a decade ago and poverty today, on the heels of an announcement that poverty levels in America have dropped.

When looking at GP's numbers, remember, the Clinton economy was supposed to be stronger the the economy under Bush (at least so say some Democrats).

GP also points to a Heritage Foundation fact sheet: The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:
  • Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.
  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
  • Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.
While it is a shame that we have people living in poverty in this nation.

But GP's figures are suspect to start with. The economy in the Clinton years went from a high poverty rate of 15.1 percent in 1993 to a low of 11.3 in 2000 and showed a steady decline over the course of his administration. President G.W. Bush had a low of 11.7 in 2001 and a high of 12.7 in 2004. Yes the averages look better for Bush than Clinton, but averages are very, very misleading.

Now all this assumes that a President and their policies have any effect on the poverty rate, a suspect proposition in itself. Certainly teh booming economy in the late 1900's lowered teh proverty rate, just as the economic downturn immediately following 9/11 adversely impacted the rate.

Diaper-free movement

I am more than a little skeptical of this idea. Still, if it works it is a huge cost savings.

Hat Tip: Betsy Newmark.

Hillary Clinton Campaign Finance Coincidences--or Conspiracy

Allahpundit at Hot Air points to another interesting story developing with the Hillary Clinton campaign. From the Wall Street Journal's Brody Mulllins:
One of the biggest sources of political donations to Hillary Rodham Clinton is a tiny, lime-green bungalow that lies under the flight path from San Francisco International Airport.

Six members of the Paw family, each listing the house at 41 Shelbourne Ave. as their residence, have donated a combined $45,000 to the Democratic senator from New York since 2005, for her presidential campaign, her Senate re-election last year and her political action committee. In all, the six Paws have donated a total of $200,000 to Democratic candidates since 2005, election records show.

That total ranks the house with residences in Greenwich, Conn., and Manhattan's Upper East Side among the top addresses to donate to the Democratic presidential front-runner over the past two years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of donations listed with the Federal Election Commission.

It isn't obvious how the Paw family is able to afford such political largess. Records show they own a gift shop and live in a 1,280-square-foot house that they recently refinanced for $270,000. William Paw, the 64-year-old head of the household, is a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service who earns about $49,000 a year, according to a union representative. Alice Paw, also 64, is a homemaker. The couple's grown children have jobs ranging from account manager at a software company to "attendance liaison" at a local public high school. One is listed on campaign records as an executive at a mutual fund.

The Paws' political donations closely track donations made by Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman in the apparel industry who once listed the Paw home as his address, according to public records. Mr. Hsu is one of the top fund-raisers for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign. He has hosted or co-hosted some of her most prominent money-raising events.
Something sure smells rotten in the state of California.

Allahpundit then throws out this hypothetical reason for the odd coincidences:
How about this as the third alternative: the son who’s a mutual fund executive — Winkle, presumably — is pals with Hsu, does business with him, gets hit up by him every now and then for a donation to his favorite candidate. As thanks, the son cuts Hillary a check and makes gifts to his family members of, say, $2,300 each, which they’re technically free to dispose of as they wish but which, per his request, they end up donating to Hillary. Campaign finance lawyers can correct me but I doubt there’s anything illegal about that.
Actually, there is something very wrong with that scenario. If the son is giving funds to his family members and then directing the money to be given to Hillary Clinton, that is considered a contribution in the name of another and that is illegal. If the family members are making contributions using other people's money (even if it is a family member's money) they are guilty of the same violation.

A complaint has surely been filed with the FEC and if not, I would imagine a flood of them will becomeing into the Commission's enforcement office shortly.

The Justice Department is prosecuting a case with striking similarly facts involving Michigan lawyer Geoffrey Feiger's contributions to John Edwards in 2004.

Dem Showdown in Florida

Hot Air's Allahpundit points to the showdown in Florida over the primary and delegates.

In the end, the DNC is going to have to recognize Florida's delegates as it cannot afford to have such a large state's preferences ignored by the party.

Social Promotion To A Diploma In Maryland

Beginning in with the class of 2009, the State of Maryland will be requiring graduating seniors pass a series of subject matter exams in order to receive their diploma. The exit exams are designed to be on the 10th grade level and students can begin taking the tests at that time and may take each subject matter test a number of times in order to pass.

Of course, a whole group of people, namely those who think that requiring a standardized test is bad, objected and today, State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has outlined a plan that would allow students to still graduate
but can't pass the High School Assessment exams in one or more subjects because of test-taking anxiety or other factors...Education officials believe the alternative to the test will essentially prevent the state from denying diplomas to students who would have graduated otherwise.(emphasis added)
For some reason the words "social promotion" are popping into my head.

If these kids can take tests in school without "anxiety" why are they now anxious about taking an exit exam that they can take again and again over the course of three years in order to pass? Presumably these kids did not suffer test anxiety on other standardized tests, for say their driver's license or the other state wide tests given to them earlier in their academic career. It is not like the format of the test is going to change all that much and one would think that with familiarization, the anxiety level is going to go down. Here is my prediction, in the fall of 2008 and early 2009, you will see a large number of students who have not passed the HSAs being diagnosed with "test anxiety," a new form of disability that will allow Maryland high school students to graduate without having to meet all the requirements, namely passing the HSAs.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the state is required to make all reasonable acomoodations for test taking, particularly the HSAs. So, for example, those with diagnosed reading problems like dyslexia, are given extra time. But with "test anxiety" diagnoses are accommodated by not having to take and pass the test--at all!! So by merely showing up to school (admittedly an important requirement) and getting barely passing grades, a student can graduate from high school without having to demonstrate any competency on skills the state of Maryland has deemed important. The value of a Maryland High school diploma is going to plummet.

What makes this practice any different than promoting some seventh grader who has not masterd the necessary skills to 8th grade? How is this going to prepare our kids for the workforce or college, where "tests" are common and employers/professors don't give a hoot about your "test anxiety" condition?

Can someone please explain to me why this is not just social promotion to a diploma?

"Charitable" Campaign Finance

The fellows at the Center for Competitive Politics note a deafening silence over the use of charities to help land candidates at fundrasing events:
A recent FEC ruling, highlighted in Friday's L.A. Times, allows wealthy individuals to contribute to a celebrity's favorite charity in exchange for having that celebrity appear at a candidate's fundraiser.

Strangely, none of the so-called "reform" organizations expressed their concern over this ruling. Here at CCP we wonder why.

Certainly, the so-called "reform" community would have protested if, instead of donating to a celebrity's charity, the wealthy individual directly compensated the celebrity for appearing. After all, that would be an in-kind contribution.

But from a candidate's perspective all that matters is that the celebrity shows up.
I don't really care about this one way or the other. First, if a billionaire gives money to charity, fine and good for him and his tax bill. If that contribution is to a celebrity's charity--whatever. If a candidate gets that celebrity to appear at a fundraiser because of the donation--who cares.

Really, how much of a problem is this? Furthermore, do we really need to care?

The Departures of Democrats Favorite Targets

Let's take a look at the Democratic White House Personnel Hit List:

Scooter Libby--Resigned, Convicted
Karl Rove--Resigned
Alberto Gonzalez--Resigned
Dick Cheney--Still Going

White House and Bush Administration departures continued yesterday as Attorney General Gonzalez resigned. Gonzalez is just the latest in a long line of resignations from the White House--some of which were expected and others not so much.

But here is a dilemma for the Democrats--with all of their favorite punching bags leaving office--who are they going to have to kick around? President Bush has taken their abuse for six plus year and shows no sign of being beaten down? Vice President Cheney will stick around if only to make Demorcrats' lives miserable by his mere presence in the White House. In there efforts to embarass the Bush Administration, the Democratic hounding of senior Administration officials will actually work against Democrats.

If you want to tell a story of greed, corruption, bad faith and bad politics, you have to be able to point to someone immediately as a "villian" and the Demcorats can't. Not a good campaign strategy.

Irony, Thy Name is Anarchists

Does anyone else see the irony in the lead paragraph of this story out of Minneapolis-site of the 2008 RNC Convention?
A group of activists who describe themselves as "anarchists and anti-authoritarians" will hold a private strategy session over the Labor Day weekend to discuss plans to protest at the Republican National Convention to be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, 2008.
Maybe its just me?

Law School, Affirmative Action and Balck Lawyers

Gail Heriot, a law professor and member of U.S. Civil Rights Commission had an op-ed over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal, discussing a study by UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander in which Sander notes that despite affirmative action admission policies there are 7.9 percent fewer black attorneys than would have been present had law schools practiced color-blind admissions. Sander's thesis is that affirmative action admissions "mismatches" students with schools, in large part due to the admission of minority students we are not prepared for the school they attend.
Supporters of race-based admissions argue that, despite the likelihood of poor grades, minority students are still better off accepting the benefit of a preference and graduating from a more prestigious school. But Mr. Sander's research suggests that just the opposite may be true--that law students, no matter what their race, may learn less, not more, when they enroll in schools for which they are not academically prepared. Students who could have performed well at less competitive schools may end up lost and demoralized. As a result, they may fail the bar.

Specifically, Mr. Sander found that when black and white students with similar academic credentials compete against each other at the same school, they earn about the same grades. Similarly, when black and white students with similar grades from the same tier law school take the bar examination, they pass at about the same rate.

Yet, paradoxically, black students as a whole have dramatically lower bar passage rates than white students with similar credentials. Something is wrong.

The Sander study argued that the most plausible explanation is that, as a result of affirmative action, black and white students with similar credentials are not attending the same schools. The white students are more likely to be attending a school that takes things a little more slowly and spends more time on matters that are covered on the bar exam. They are learning, while their minority peers are struggling at more elite schools.
So schools lower admission standards for minority students "to give them a leg up" but in reality the move damages the minority student's chances of not only graduating but passing the bar exam.

In July 2005, I sat for the Maryland Bar Exam and for the first time in my life I failed an exam that had a direct impact upon my career. I hade failed exams in school before, but never, ever a test that impacted by my ability to work in my chosen field (I had to take a lot of exams in the Navy). I graduated cum laude from law school and if I can fail, imagine someone who struggled through law school academically taking the bar exam and passing the first time or any time. The numbers are not good:
Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. How great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify these costs?
I believe that black lawyers are a boon to the profession, but more importantly, the profession has to maintain a stature within society worthy of the trust people place in attorneys. Affirmative action policies, if Sander's research is accurate, actually inhibit the ability of black students becoming lawyers and if true, the practice must be halted and right now.

The difficulty, of course, is that we as a nation and to a certain extent as a profession, have too much invested in affirmative action to simply stop the practice. More than a fair number of people, who don't want Prof. Sander's thesis proved or disproved (and so far his data has held up against some scathing critcisms).
No one claims the findings in Mr. Sander's study, "A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools," are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny at least as well as that of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the "mismatch thesis" can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Mr. Sander's data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, they apparently don't want you--or anyone else--to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff advisor and co-author of a frequently cited attack of Sander's study. When Mr. Sander and his co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California that would allow analysis by race, Mr. Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure "risks stigmatizing African American attorneys." At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, gleefully warned that the state bar would be sued if it cooperated with Mr. Sander.

Sadly, the State Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn't formally explain their decision to deny Mr. Sander's request for these data (in which no names would be disclosed), but the root cause is clear: Over the last 40 years, many distinguished citizens--university presidents, judges, philanthropists and other leaders--have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy.

If the policy is not working, they, too, don't want anyone to know.
Far too many people, including it should be noted, the Supreme Court of the United States, has a stake in the practice of affirmative action admissions. The argument, frequently made, is that a "critical mass" of minority students adds to the education of the entire class. A better argument to make is that a critical mass of minority lawyers adds to the reputation and honor of the profession and current admission practices appear to make it hard to add to that critical mass of attorneys.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Problems of Regulating Political Speech

Bob Bauer discusses the problems with the FEC asking for illustrations and examples of permissible and impermissible grassroots lobbying ads:
One problem: the FEC can say, as it does, that it is only interested in examples as "illustrations," but the agency runs the risk of having the examples treated as government-approved scripts. If scripts are included in the rules as "illustrations" of what is permitted and what is not, they assume a significance well beyond an illustrative one. An advertiser wishing to limit risk can try to force speech within the model set out in the rules, effectively copying one ad and adopting it, with different content, for its own. The FEC must know that if it includes scripts as examples, this is one consequence: that it will have endorsed some forms of argument and disfavored others.

That this is a hazardous course is confirmed by the Commission’s choice of scripts. Two of the scripts it cites with approval, as exempt lobbying, were scripts the FEC had previously declared to be improper electioneering before the Supreme Court settled the argument. Of course, the Commission can say that its position had to change, and that it is now correctly offering these scripts as illustrations of permitted grassroots lobbying. But this experience is still an object lesson in the unreliability of administrative agency judgment in these matters. Even with the Court’s WRTL decision in hand, the FEC is not necessarily better equipped to apply criteria correctly to specific scripts: there is no reason why it might not apply them mistakenly in giving an "illustration" of what the law allows. It might work better for the FEC to establish criteria drawn from the WRTL decision and await experience before judging, preemptively, specific applications.

What, after all, is an "illustration?" The Commission says what whatever it may be, it is not "a requirement for any particular words or phrases that must be included for a communication to qualify for the safe harbor." Notice at 28. What then does an illustration, through the use of a specific script, help to accomplish, except perhaps to confuse those who consult agency rules into believing that there are indeed just such requirements for "particular words or phrases"?
This is the problem with any attempt to clamp down on political speech, particularly as it pertains to elections and politics--it is almost impossbible to distinguish between a legitimate ad about a policy discussion and a legitimate ad about the election of a candidate. We have arrived at a place where we are forced to split hairs as to what is electioneering and what is grassroots lobbying. It is possible that the inclusion of a certain word or phrase may mean the difference between the two, but how long will it take for such a determination to be made?

Of course, asking such a question assumes that such a determination should be made. The progression of political speech regulation should be clear in the wake of WRTL. A law is passed restricting some "corrupting ifluence," a court challenge is made, the Supreme Court rules that X portion of the law is unconsitutional and then we have to redefine what is permissible, only to restart the cycle.

In the meantime, more and more people become disenfranchised and disillusioned by teh system, but can't affor a lawyer to help them navigate the system to make changes. So we are left with leaders who think it is okay to tell Americans what to say, how to say it and when to say when it comes to political speech.

The Framers must be rolling over in their graves.

College Degrees May Decline in Value

George Leef at Phi Beta Cons has a couple of explnations:
One reason:
as competition for college-educated employees increases, companies will become more and more motivated to use those without college degrees effectively in the workforce, in jobs that today would routinely require a diploma-in-hand as the price of admission. They will come to screen candidates in different ways, searching, perhaps, for the Simon Cowells among them: those who are bright, motivated, and will make them money.
Another reason: "a perception that at least parts of today's college education are actually not particularly relevant may pervade more and more young people's (and older employers') consciousness."
For at least a couple of decades, people have preached at high school kids the importance of a college education to getting a good job. But really, the college education has diminished in its core purpose, that of actually providing a broad education. Instead colleges have become finishing schools for political posturing in some areas social sciences and "liberal" arts) and a trade school in others (engineering and computer "science"). Of course, employers looking to hire smart motivate high schools may likewise be dismayed at the poor quality of a high school diploma as a sign of employability.

Electoral College Reform--The National Popular Vote Plan

Jamin Raskin, a Democratic State Delegate from Montgomery County Maryland, and a law professor at American University, writes that electoral college reforms, like proportional allocation, are a cure that is worse than the disease. Then he launches into a screed against the raw naked partisanship of the California ballot initiative as somehow evil and then concludes with his own naked partisanship.
It's hardly news at this point that, as it works today, the Electoral College undermines American democracy. It does so in three fundamental ways: First, it betrays the principle of majority rule, threatening every four years to deliver the White House to the popular-vote loser. Second, it reduces the general election contest to a matter of what happens in Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states, leaving most Americans (who live in forsaken "red" and "blue" states) on the sidelines. This in turn depresses turnout and helps give us one of the worst rates of voter participation on earth. Third, because of its proven pliability, the Electoral College invites partisan operatives, legislators, secretaries of state and even Supreme Court justices to engage in constant strategic mischief and manipulation at the state level.

This last problem is about to make things much worse, as strategic actors try to exploit spreading discontent with the system by pushing "reform" proposals for purely partisan advantage. Thus, in California, top Republican strategists are now proposing a ballot initiative that would "reform" the system by awarding the state's electoral votes by congressional district. Its real purpose is to break up the state's 55 electors, which typically go to the Democrats in a bloc as inevitably as Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma give their 56 combined electors to the Republicans. Following the proposed division of California's well-gerrymandered blue and red congressional districts, it is likely that the 2008 GOP nominee under this plan would carry away about 20 electors. In one fell swoop, this would ruin the Democrats' chances for winning the presidency.
In examining the initial claims of Delegate Raskin, one can come away with the sense that Raskin's cure is better than all the others, but it doesn't mean it that his cure should be chosen either.

It is true that the Electoral College can reward a candidate with the Presidency even when they don't get the most popular votes, we have experienced this twice in our history. It is certainly arguable that outside of Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, most of the presidential election doesn't matter for most states due to the overwhelming wins for one party or another. Yes, the nature of the Electoral College, i.e. that it is based on how the state legislatures determine how electoral votes will be decided and allocated, makes it vulnerable to partisan tinkering, but none of that mischief has happened, while it may indeed happen in the future.

There is no doubting the the effort in California is based up a desire to win, but the sponsors of the ballot question to change California's winner take all electoral vote allocation to a proportional allocation is completely within the law, is not a stealth attack (how can it be with all the press it is getting) or that it is somehow "undemocratic." The ballot questions seeks to have the people, acting in their legislative capacity, change the manner in which California's electoral votes are allocated--how undemocratic is that? There is a question of whether the ballot initiative is constitutional in the end, since the Constitution gives the state legislatures the power to decide electoral votes, with the question of whether the populace can do it. Such a case would be a wonderful exposition on which group holds the ultimate power in our governmental system, the voters or the legislature.

Raskin holds forth on the National Popular Vote plan, a plan which asks states to pass legislation that would allocate all of that state's electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.
It simply calls for an interstate compact among all states to agree to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. It becomes effective and binding when states representing at least 270 electors enter the compact. This is the way we will get to elect presidents as we elect governors and senators: everyone acting together, without games and subterfuge.
Following this plan bypasses the concern about amending the Constitution to dispose of the Electoral College--a difficult proposition, and it sounds imminently fair--the top vote getter wins, right?

Well not so fast. Here are some numbers for people to remember, 270--the number of electoral votes needed to win the Presidency in the Elctoral College and 11--the minimum number of states that would need to pass the interstate compact in order to change how electoral college votes are determined. So far, as Raskin notes, Maryland has passed this compact and it carries 10 electoral votes. So to get to passage, the National Popular Vote plan would need the following states (and only the following states) to pass the compact:

California (55 electoral votes)
Texas (34)
New York (31)
Florida (27)
Pennsylvania (21)
Illinois (21)
Ohio (20)
Michigan (17)
Two of the three following states: Georgia (15)New Jersey (15) or North Carolina (15)
Plus any state besides Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont or Wyoming (all have only three electoral votes.

That is a total of 12 states (including Maryland), less than 1/4 of the states in the Union would determine who wins the eelction by some interstate compact, the workings of which itself is constitutionally suspect. Is that any more democratic the California's effort?

While I admire the efforts of the National Popular Vote Plan propenents in their effort to find a solution to our "Electoral College Problem" and its "undemocratic" nature, their solution is just as undemocratic, indeed less so, than the California alternative. With the national popular vote plan, the large population centers, like California, Texas, New York and Florida would continue to dominate the electoral battle. Instead of giving small states more of a say in the election, they would actually be marginalized further as candidates would spend more time in the big metropolitan areas or large swing states (Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania anyone) trying to garner enough votes to win the popular vote. In fact, nothing will change.

The fact is, in a nation as politically divided as ours, the Electoral College is a safety valve, releasing some of the pressure of partisanship. While the electoral college may distort the results of an election, the solution proposed by the National Popular Vote plan actually distorts the functioning of our federal system. The legislative majority in a significant minority of states could trample the rights of the political minority in their states, enact into law a plan that would allow this small minority of states to determine the course of American political history.

The national popular vote is, likely, the proper way to elect a president and I think a good idea. However, such a change in our laws must be the progeny of a significant consensus that the system is broken and as we can see, we don't have that consensus. If a national popular vote plan is to be implemented let the proponents of the plan marshall the resources, financial and political, to pass a Constitutional amendment, 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states. If the California ballot initiative passes, there could very well be enough of a sea change in the electorate's mindset that such an constitutional amendment might pass, and it might not.

The Next Attorney General

Mark Levin has a few (not so good jokes) about the next attorney general:
Why not just formalize Patrick Fitzgerald's role as the roving attorney general? O.K., bad joke. Or maybe the president can appoint Arlen Specter and after he gets confirmed, fire him. O.K., another bad joke.
I like the Specter joke, though.

Gifted Kids, NCLB and the Washington Post

Keven Carey at the Quick and the Ed has a bit of takedown on this Washington Post Op-Ed:
Worse than this benign neglect, No Child forces a fundamental educational approach so inappropriate for high-ability students that it destroys their interest in learning, as school becomes an endless chain of basic lessons aimed at low-performing students.

These predictable problems were reported as early as 2003, when the Wall Street Journal warned that schools were shifting their focus overwhelmingly toward low achievers. Expressions of concern from distressed parents and educators of gifted children have come in increasing numbers ever since.

No Child is particularly destructive to bright young math students. Faced with a mandate to bring every last student to proficiency, schools emphasize incessant drilling of rudimentary facts and teach that there is one "right" way to solve even higher-order problems. Yet one of the clearest markers of a nimble math mind is the ability to see novel approaches and shortcuts to attacking such problems. This creativity is what makes math interesting and fun for those students. Schools should encourage this higher-order thinking, but high-ability students are instead admonished for solving problems the wrong way, despite getting the right answers. Frustrated, and bored by simplistic drills, many come to hate math.

Talented writers fare no better in language arts education. Recently, a noted children's author recounted her dismay when fifth-graders attending one of her workshops balked at a creative writing exercise. She was shocked to learn that the reluctant writers were gifted. The children, however, had spent years completing mundane worksheets designed for struggling classmates and thus rebelled at an exercise they assumed would be yet another tedious worksheet.
Carey responds with some solid points about the piece:
1) The authors assert that the law is having "unintended but disastrous consequences" for gifted kids. Can I just say -- a pox on "unintended consequences." They're the Lay's potato chips of argumentation, a cheap, substance-free rhetorical device that newspaper editors are apparently helpless to resist consuming, even though (I hope) they know they should. It's not that unitended consequences don't exist, but if you're going to assert them you should have to offer some evidence that what you're saying is actually true. Which leads to:

2) Is there any reputable, empirical evidence to support the contention that NCLB is hurting the education of gifted students? If there is, I haven't seen it, and it's certainly nowhere in this op-ed. NAEP scores, SATs, some kind of "ceiling" effect on high-end scale scores -- anything? One thing I am 100 percent sure of: next spring I'm going to be reading a spate of newspaper articles about how a record number of students managed to--somehow--overcome the depradations of NCLB, ace the SATs, accumulate a freakishly accomplished resume of extracurricular activities, and yet get turned down by Harvard.
While Carey has some points, there is no evidence that says NCLB is hurting the education of smart kids and just like the authors of the op-ed, I have no emprical evidence to cite for this assertion:

NCLB does not harm the education of smart kids, the whole American public education system does, and has done so for decades.

American public education has, by necessity, focused on the kids in the main, middle part of the bell curve of intelligence and achievement. The schools used to track kids, smart kids into certain classes, average kids in other classes and slower learners in another. Often times, special ed kids were in a whole other track. While tracking had some very bad outcomes in some cases and it was difficult for schools to "mix tracks" that is have some one gifted in math be in average English classes, in some ways, this tracking gave smarter kids a slightly more difficult education commensurate with their skills, while still allowing average kids to ge the education they needed.

However, education "reformers" decried the practice as "socially unjust" and so classes became mixed with multiple skill levels. The theory was that classes with mixed skill levels would help all skill levels equally (how this was supposed to happen was never documented). The result is that smarter kids would complete their work and one of two things would happen. They would do other work and if necessary suffer those consequences or like my brother, goof off and get in disciplinary trouble. In short, the "system" is not designed to deal with smart kids.

The advent of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, charter schools, magnet schools, dual enrollment programs (high school seniors enrolling at local community or small colleges for credit in both high school and college) gave smarter kids an outlet for their needs and skills. However, students benefiting from these options tend to be in suburban and in some cases urban districts. Rural high schoolers generally don't have these options.

So while it may not be necessary to decry the "poor smart kids" the way the Susan Goodkin and David G. Gold do in the Washington Post, we should not by any means discount the notion that smart kids are not benefitting fully from American public education. The neglect of their needs is a real, if not fully documented problem.

What Do You Say To Something Like This Soldier's Story

Wesley Morgan has an interview with a female soldier that should rip your heart out.

It has hard to imagine that our soldiers have everyday problems like ours, difficulties with family, divorces etc, and the added intensity of combat, losing friends, comrades and their own physical safety.

Hat Tip: The Instapundit.

A Porkbuster's Profile

Quite a bit of buzz in the conservative blogosphere about the Los Angeles Times profile of Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).Flake has long be a opponent of the vile earmarking process and he is getting some traction--thanks in part to the exposure of the near graft invovled in the earmarking process:
Flake's persistence may be starting to pay off.

Last year, his amendments to strike earmarks drew an average of 68 votes. This year, the average rose to 85 votes.

"A lot of people are really sick of this game," Flake said. "They had higher aspirations than to beg for crumbs that fall from appropriators' tables."
Now if we can get to 218 on an earmark stripping amendment on a regular basis, then that will be progress. Still more:
Flake's campaign appears to be increasingly irritating both parties' senior members of the House Appropriations Committee.

Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) recently reached his boiling point when Flake dared to challenge a $400,000 earmark in the chairman's home state. "I think it comes with considerable ill grace," Obey fumed.

Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, the committee's top Republican, recently told Flake that he was doing a disservice in attempting to portray Republicans as fiscally undisciplined.

"The gentleman is wrong," he said.

Flake's critics say that he is wasting time focusing on tiny appropriations rather than taking aim at serious spending issues, such as controlling Medicare costs.
When you are irritating both sides of the aisle evenly, you are doing a fair job. The comment about Medicare is pointed though and legitimate. But the counter would be that if Congress weren't so interested in getting pork for their district, they might have more time to focus on Medicare and other entitlement reforms.

Flake may be focusing on teh nickle and dime projects, but these projects add up over time. Ask anyone who has looked at their personal spending (as my wife and I have recently), it is not just the big ticket items that drive budget busting, it is the little things. Flake's earmark targets are like those $6 trips for fast food every couple of days. Individually they aren't that much, but over the course of a month or a year, you can pay a lot of bills with that money.

Well done Congressman Flake.

Thomas Rollins--Bringing Great College Course to Your Home

Wilfred McClay has a tribute to former Capitol Hill attorney Thomas Rollins. Most people don't know who Rollins is and frankly until a few months ago, I didn't either. But over the past two years, in which my commute averages 1 hour and 40 minutes one way, I have come to love an appreciate The Teaching Company, a company that has brought over 200 college level courses to the public via taped lectures appearing on DVD, CD and cassettes.
After some rocky early years, the company has grown steadily to become the colossus of its field, the country's leading publisher of proprietary university-level courses for home use. With more than 200 courses already available and new ones being added almost daily--now including a line of courses directed at high-school and home-schooled students--and with all of them taught by reputable and often quite talented lecturers, the Teaching Company has become a serious force in American education. Such was evidently the opinion of Brentwood Associates, a well-heeled private equity investment firm in Los Angeles, which acquired the company last October for an undisclosed, but presumably handsome, sum.

Clearly Mr. Rollins deserves enormous credit for having the vision and fortitude to make such a success. But something else was needed. A business innovation succeeds by serving needs that existing institutions fail to address. In this case, the needs were simple but profound: Ordinary Americans' deeply felt love of learning and earnest desire for self-improvement. H.L. Mencken liked to jibe that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." But the Teaching Company's success offers evidence for the opposite proposition: that one can build a successful business by appealing to the intelligence of the American people.
Far too many people among America's leaders take the intelligence of the American public with a grain of salt (if they even consider the everyday American as intelligent) and they would be wrong. Rollins didn't take that intelligence and the desire for self-improvement for granted, he built a business on it.

I have obtained my Teaching Company courses and lectures via my public library, but you can buy your own from the company. Over the past couple of years, I have supplemented my professional education by beefing up my background in history, adding some economics courses and political history. I have also enjoyed courses like physics for non-physicists, the Nature of Earth (an intro to geology). I love the company and I love their product.

Gonzales Resigns

Rumored to be coming all weekend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is resigning.

Gonzales has been an anchor on the White House for political reasons, although it is still up in the air as to what really happened with the U.S. Attorney firings.

Democrats will cheer roundly, but they have not really achieved anything.

The Perks of Higher Ed

Thomas Lifson asks,
What is it about being appointed to run a major university campus that causes the appointee to hire an expensive interior decorator?
A good question, as a trial has started in Houston regarding the perks former Texas Southern University president Priscilla Slade, who is charged with
misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal luxuries.

A $1,000 silk canopy for a four-poster bed, $138,000 for landscaping and $61,600 for a security system are among the items that prosecutors say the former president, Priscilla Slade, fraudulently billed the public for and kept secret from trustees from 1999 to 2005.
The alledged graft is impressive and the witness list includes United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, who was chairman of the university's board during the time.

A security system for $61,000? At that price, it has better electrocute intruders.

Jesse Jackson--International Shake-Down Artist

No longer content shaking down American corporations to pay reparations for the long dead African slave trade (a business that was legal at the time) even though the current company did not exist at the time, but had bought so some successor company somewhere along the line, Jesse Jackson has taken his reparations show across the Atlantic.
After bullying London's mayor into apologizing for his city's role in the transatlantic slave trade more than two centuries ago, Jesse Jackson did what he does best - demand money.

At Thursday's memorial commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of England's slave trade, Mayor Ken Livingstone was literally brought to tears as he apologized "on behalf of London and its institutions" for their role in ferrying human cargo to the New World.

If you've been paying attention to this charlatan's game, it won't shock you that the Guardian reported that "Jackson walked over and placed his arm around the mayor" as he delivered his wet-eyed contrition for the acts of those long dead before his great-grandfather was ever born.

Afterwards, in his classic mumbo-jumbo non-sequitur rhyme-speak, the man who put Hymie-town on the map praised Livingstone for breaking "important ground." A Kumbaya moment, indeed -- of course he then snatched the opportunity to demand that apologetic Londoners now break into their wallets and pay reparations for the sins of a few of their great-great-grandfathers.

Astounding - having thus far failed to bring his own country to its knees with similar liberal-guilt-exploiting strong-arm tactics (okay -- he's still working on it), the civil rights huckster now charges that modern Britain was also built on the ill-gotten gains of his oppressed people and that,
"We must not speak of the slave trade and slavery in past tense terms."
Of course not - this deplorable injustice, 200 years banned in Britain and 144 so in America, still delivers quite the flesh for leeches feeding on the blood and guts of their own people, doesn't it Jessie? After all, it pays for your homes, your cars, your travel and your other excesses, does it not?
I think I will refer to the slave trade in the past tense because, well it happened in the past.

Jesse Jackson knows no boundaries when it comes to this subject and is not only content to make a living off of dredging up the past, he seems to revel in it. I am not one to say we should ignore the past, indeed we must study it. But in studying the past, there is no need to relive the past. Jesse Jackson may be descended from slaves (I don't know that he is or is not), but that does not give him the right nor the station to keep thrusting slavery, or more accurately reparations, in our face. At this point, there is no way that reparations can be made with any certainty and barring that certainty, what can we do.

This nation has acknowledged its role in the dispicable practice and several states have "apologized" for it, a practrice that sets the stage for charlatans like Jackson to demand money. After all, if you admit you did something wrong, aren't you supposed to pay for that wrong? But here is the thing, no one alive now, including Jesse Jackson, played any role, either than of seller, buyer or slave, of the slave trade, so must I atone for all the sins of my great, great grandfather, a man I never met, never knew and for all I know, never engages in the slave trade.

A Shift in Black Priorities

Courtesy of Phi Beta Cons comes a hint that major civil rights groups are starting to see that the black community needs to rebuild its families and through this route will come the success that affirmative action has been unable to bring about.

Aston Villa 2-1 Fulham: Match Reaction

Fulham FC fell to Aston Villa in the final minutes. Although only four matches old, the Fulham side is falling into a disturbing pattern of play.

The White have been quick to jump into the lead, this time with American striker Clint Dempsey putting Fulham up 1-0 in the sixth minute of the game. The game see-sawed back and forth from there for the remainder of the half. Early in teh second half, the home team Aston Villa equalized on a goal by Ashley Young. With about 20 minutes left in the game, Fulham defender Chris Baird was sent off with his secon yellow card of the game. Finally, in injury time, Aston Villa grabbed all three points on a goal by Aston Villa substitute Shaun Maloney, who slotted the ball past American keeper, and recent Fulham acquisition, Kasey Keller.

Fulham drop to 19th on the League Table, but with six teams having a game in hand, Fulham may not remain in that position.

Fulham's three losses so far this season have come at the hands of Arsenel, Middlesbrough and now Aston Villa. In all three matches, Fulham have scored early, in the first minute against Arsenel, in the 16th minute against Middlesbrough and in the 6th minute against Aston Villa. In each of the three games, Fulham has lost in the final two minutes of regulation time and/or injury time. Against Arsenel, the Whites game up the game winner in final injury time. Against Middlesbrough, the game winner came in the 88th minute and finally on Saturday at Aston Villa, the fame was lost by Fulham in injury time.

I am not sure if the failings at the end of the match are a matter of fitness or if it is a matter of lack of mental focus at the end of the match. But clearly Lawrie Sanchez needs to figure out what the hell is going on, but cause the Football Assocaition is not going to shorten the matches. But Fulham needs to figure it out soon. After a Carling Cup match tomorrow against Shrewsbury, the Fulham September is going to be tough. On Sept. 1, the Whites will host Tottenham Hotspur (currently 17th in the table) and then play three of the top four teams on the current table in a row, the suprising Wigan Athletic (#3) on Sept. 15, Manchester City(#2) on the 22nd and league leaders Chelsea on Sept. 29.

Carnival of Maryland XIV

Hosted by Tinkerty Tonk and a production of the Maryland Bloggers Alliance (see blogroll on the left).

Attila, interestingly, finds a silver lining behind the Baltimore Orioles 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers. Admittedly, it is not much of a silver lining, unless you are a Peter Angelos fan.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Baltimore School Contract Negotiations

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun reported on what the Baltimore teacher's union is doing due to the stall in contract negotiations.
The Baltimore Teachers Union is asking teachers to "work to rule" when classes start next week because negotiations on a new two-year contract have stalled over planning time for teachers, a union leader said yesterday.

Contract talks have reached an impasse, said Marietta English, president of the teachers' chapter of the Baltimore Teachers Union. The union, which also represents paraprofessionals, plans to ask the Maryland State Department of Education to move negotiations to a fact-finding phase to resolve the issue.


Teachers and paraprofessionals will continue to work under the existing contractual agreement, English said yesterday. The union is asking teachers to perform only tasks dictated by the contract and to work only during the designated school day.

The union is committed to working with Andres Alonso, the new chief executive officer of Baltimore schools, English said, but "we think it is outrageous that teachers are being denied a new contract while newly hired teachers are being offered bonuses up to $7,000 to work in the Baltimore City public schools," she said.
This is a perfect example of how parents and students cannot trust teachers' unions.

Despite what many people think, I am not completely anti-union. I don't like unions and in particular public sector unions since they drive up the cost of government. But if a union sticks to doing what it is supposed to do, that is focus their efforts on work place conditions and protections, I generally will not oppose their actions.

However, the problem with public sector unions, like teachers' unions, is that they claim to have the interests of the public at heart but cannot reconcile their professed concern with the actions they take. Baltimore schools are set to open on Monday and now teachers are being told--don't do anything extra. Working to the rule at a time when extra effort is required, i.e. at the beginning of a school year, is a cheap shot and clearly does not have the best interests of students at heart.

The thing that really chafes me is that the impasse is over planning time--planning time. In a work day that is already an hour or so shorter than the rest of the world but France, and includes a 45 minute lunch break, further shortening the work day, the Baltimore teachers union is upset about planning time. Not having too many kids in the class, not pay, not benefits, not even the condition of classrooms (i.e. no heat or A/C) but planning time.

I don't know of any other job, unionized or otherwise, that even considers planning time a negotiable condition and the cause for a labor demonstration. The fact that heartens me is that I know many teachers will ignore the union and go about doing their jobs for our children the best they know how.

Here is the thing that chafes me about the school system:
A school system spokeswoman did not return calls for comment last night. English said the school system wants to use some of the planning time for staff development. The contract includes 10 staff development days.
School systems routinely don't go on the offensive, ceding the public relations ground to the unions. The minute these talks broke down, the press officer for the school system should have been on the phone to the Sun and making the schools' case. They have such a wonderful case to make here.

By almost every measurement, Baltimore schools are in dismal condition. Teachers have within their power the ability to make the most immediate and long term changes and for my money, anything that helps them do their job better, whether voluntary or mandatory, is a good thing. Having ten days of staff development augmented by a couple more days is nothing. If it means teachers have to do a little planning outside the work day--so be it. The school system needs to improve and that means teachers too. The school board should be up front and public about it.

According to the Maryland State Report Card for 2007, Baltimore City Schools have 21.6 percent of teachers with Conditional certification and 47 percent of classes being taught by teachers who are not highly qualified according to NCLB standards. In contrast, statewide, only 7.8 percent of teachers in Maryland are working with conditional certification and 17.8 percent of classes don't' have a highly qualified teacher. Based on those figures alone, the Baltimore City School Board should be out there with guns blazing that their desire to have more development days is meant to close those gaps.

The galling fact is that eventually the school board is going to cave. The best that can be hoped for is a compromise of some sort.

The parents and students of Baltimore need better teachers and they certainly don't need lazy teachers. Working to rule is lazy and it is a cop out by the union. The public shouldn't take it and they should be public about this disapproval.